Becoming a Paralegal

If you are interested in serving as a legal assistant, you've probably wondered how to become a paralegal and what it takes to complete a paralegal training program. Men and women interested in the legal profession don't necessarily have to become lawyers. Becoming a paralegal offers an alternative for those who want to work in the legal field, conduct research for cases, produce legal reports and keep up with the latest laws, statutes and regulations relevant to the field. Learning how to become a paralegal can help you decide whether this is the right career path for you, and what to expect from your certification or training program.

These programs help students become professionals in their field, learn about abiding by a strict code of ethics, and also give students a chance to use various types of legal software and research methods when extracting information from legal databases.

How You Can Be a Paralegal

The first step in becoming a paralegal is to find an accredited paralegal studies program in your area, or online. You have the option to complete either an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, or take an accelerated course program to get your paralegal certificate. While certification is not required in any state, most attorneys do prefer that their paralegals have undergone some type of formal training program. This is because paralegals are responsible for doing more than just clerical work or providing administrative report.

Paralegals are typically responsible for handling some or all of the case paperwork and research, preparing legal documents, communicating with clients on the attorney's behalf, and processing documentation to store it in the appropriate database. Paralegals need to have advanced organization skills, be prepared to conduct in-depth legal research, and also provide a high level of administrative support for an attorney.

Steps for Becoming a Paralegal

Becoming a paralegal typically takes between 7 months to four years or more, depending on the level of education the student decides to complete. Remember that you can choose to complete a standard paralegal certificate program, a two-year associate's degree program, or a bachelor's degree in the field in order to be considered a professional. No state requires paralegal certification or a degree, but it is generally preferred because a formal training program will give you the advanced skills you need to succeed in the field.

The steps for becoming a paralegal typically include the following:

  • Finding an accredited college or online school that offers paralegal training programs
  • Making sure you fulfill all prerequisites
  • Having a high school diploma or GED, and being at least 18 years of age
  • Completing a certificate program, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies
  • Gaining relevant work experience through an internship or externship during your educational career
  • Applying for paralegal positions in your area

If you do decide to become certified, you will need to pass a certification examination. If you meet certain eligibility requirements, you can become a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and also receive the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) and Certified Paralegal (CP) designations.

Having some work experience in the field is essential for becoming a paralegal, as many employers will look for proof that you have received both school-based and on-the-job training. Seeking out information about internships and job-shadowing opportunities during your last few months or years of paralegal studies can help you secure an attractive position after your training is complete.